The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development (IESC) provides advice to the Australian Government Environment Minister on priorities for research to improve understanding of potential impacts of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments on water resources.
In 2017, the IESC recommended research priorities to the Australian Government. These priorities relate to the potential impacts on water resources (including changes to hydrology and water quality) that may arise from large coal mining and coal seam gas developments. The research focuses on issues of national significance, areas of high-risk to water resources and areas where there are major knowledge gaps.
The research aims to strengthen the science underpinning regulatory decisions, by informing the IESC’s advice to the Australian Government on individual development proposals. Coal resource development companies, and the resources industry more generally, can also use this research in order to more accurately assess the potential impacts on water resources. This is an update on the priorities the IESC recommended in 2013.
The latest research priorities have three main themes:
- Hydrology: address gaps in knowledge on surface and groundwater connectivity, groundwater modelling, and impacts on water bodies. These are crucial elements to better understand long-term impacts on water resources.
- Chemicals: improve understanding of chemicals used in coal seam gas extraction and their movement in surface and groundwater systems, wastewater management and geogenic (naturally occurring under the ground) chemicals.
- Ecology: improve scientific understanding of the ecological impacts of changes to water quantity, quality, and flow; and explore better ways to monitor and mitigate the effects of coal seam gas and coal mining on aquatic ecosystems, key species and ecological communities.
Completed research findings
Between 2013 and 2017 the Australian Government invested $19 million into research guided by the priorities the Committee recommended in 2013. As a result, the IESC has more than 55 publicly available research reports to draw on.
That research strengthened the science behind regulatory decisions, by better informing the IESC's advice to regulators.
Research products and fact sheets on topics across the 2013 priority themes are available on the Department's website, visit Coal and coal seam gas - Resources. To download any of the technical reports, visit Coal and coal seam gas – Science and research.
In mid 2019, a targeted survey of key stakeholders was conducted to further refine the research priorities by identifying current research activities, emerging knowledge needs and future research opportunities.
In addition, analysis of previous IESC advices was used to determine the frequency at which research priorities are detailed in the IESC’s advice. Coal development projects likely to be assessed in future years were also analysed.
In early 2020, the IESC agreed on their next research projects:
Coal mine voids in Queensland
The IESC funded a research pilot project to increase the understanding of coal mine voids in Queensland through a scoping study to identify the location and potential impacts of these mine voids on the landscape.
This study was finalised in November 2021. For further information about the study, visit Scoping study - Coal mine voids, Queensland.
Improving understanding on how changes to groundwater quality arising from coal seam gas and large coal mining developments might affect the biodiversity and function of phreatic fauna and microbes
In late 2020, the IESC funded a new research project under its Chemical and Ecology research priority themes.
The project will explore metagenomics approaches to improve understanding on how changes to groundwater quality arising from coal seam gas and large coal mining developments might affect the biodiversity and function of phreatic fauna and microbes.
This study aims to assess associations between groundwater quality and the composition of stygofaunal and phreatic microbial assemblages. It will also assess the effectiveness of various sampling protocols (for example, sampling unpurged versus purged bores, and different volumes of sample to find an optimum for estimating stygofaunal assemblage composition) and the likely feasibility of metagenomics approaches for routine groundwater biomonitoring.